Into the Rainforest
by Maggie Ernest -- June 23rd, 2014
There’s something really magical about a humid Amazon forest. Maybe it’s because once you enter one, it’s as if you’ve passed into another world where you are all encompassed in green. The loose, dark soil beneath your feet gives way as you climb upward, so you find yourself springing from rock to rock, using trees and vines to pull your way along, carefully attempting to avoid the ants that will attack you. You’re mildly worried about grabbing or stepping on a snake, but you know there is no use in worrying so you continue your scramble. An assortment of insects bite at you – some making you itch, some that feel like a sharp, hot pain, some that make you red and swollen – and as annoying as it is, you can’t help but find yourself in awe of the vast diversity of life. Sweat trickles down your temples once you’ve reached far enough into the interior of the forest. As you catch your breath, you take stock of this new world: green on green on green and wonder with excitement all of the mysteries that surround you. There is still so much about these forests that we haven’t discovered and that unknowing makes you feel like a true explorer.
I pull out the yellow GPS from my day-pack and take a point, reading off the coordinates to Eder. He writes quickly, making notes on the type of forest we are in, how disturbed it may be, and any other insight on the possible conservation value of this patch. Putting the GPS away, I use the clinometer hanging around my neck to note the angle to the top of the tree as well as the roots. Eder hands me one side of the measuring tape and scrambles over to the tree in order to record the distance. “Cuantos?” I ask, but Eder only smiles as he begins to rewind the tape. I think, “6 metres?” This is a game we play, to see if I can guess the distance. “6.4” He responds – I’m getting closer. These measurements will be used to determine the average height of the forest. Next, I scramble again over to the tree we’ve selected and pulling my compass out of my pocket I note the direction I’m facing. With a densiometer in my other hand, I determine the canopy cover for each cardinal direction around the tree. This will help to determine the average canopy cover for the forest. “Ah! Foto!” Eder reminds me. I slip the densiometer back into my day-pack and pull my camera from my other pocket and snap a quick picture.
Suddenly, raindrops begin descending down from the mass of green leaves overhead. “Lluvia! Rain! Rain!” Eder yells. “Vamos!” I yell back and now we find ourselves running through the same forest we both took our time struggling to scramble over. We get to a creek to follow out to the road and jump from rock to rock that are now slippery with rain. Still we run, sliding down the steep slope of the forest, falling into mud, getting caught on thickets of thorns, and swinging from branches down into thick, sticky mud, we laugh the whole way back. Finally, I see the sky looming as the forest begins to open up. Eder yells to the driver to start up the car. And as I pass through the final branches of the forest it feels like I just opened the door into another world, a familiar world, a world with roads and cars and people. A world lacking in the mysterious green beauty, now to my back. We jump into the car, and I already feel badly for tracking more mud into Paulino’s new car. I look out the window at the tree line as our car begins moving on down the road and already I miss it. I scratch at my bug bites and reaching for my bottle of water I wonder if that forest patch will always remain.
As we drive the winding roads of San Martin, it’s hard to believe just how devastating the deforestation truly is. The land looks like a quilt of rice, corn, and pasture with some bits of forest sprinkled in. It is disheartening to see so little forest left and I wonder what the land must have looked like, what animals must have roamed between the trees, long before human development laid its mark. And I wonder if our work will really help to save the tocon. We expect our analysis to reveal areas to prioritize for conservation and areas that could possibly be connected in order to increase their range and survival. My only hope is that it is not too late. I haven’t seen a tocon yet, but we heard some while collecting data along the banks of the Rio Mayo. A nice man offered to take us across the river in his canoe, and while we found forest that was excellent for conservation, we didn’t spy any of our rare monkeys.
The car suddenly comes to a stop and I am taken out of my reverie. Eder found another good place to trek into a forest patch. Paulino opens the door for me as I slowly get out and swing my day-pack onto my shoulders. I look up at the impressive, tall expanse of green jungle that lies before me. I smile in the expectation of not knowing what to expect from this journey. We jump across the open sewer that serves as a boundary between road and forest. I don’t look behind me at the world I’m leaving, and ducking beneath the vines I enter the rainforest.